On My Mind

Just back from a week of traveling, and I'm going to have a coherent set of thoughts about something philosophical?  I don't think so...

Body Scanned.  I got to find out what this was like on the way into the Statue of Liberty this past Sunday. People who feel "molested" and "violated" by this experience have some explaining to do.  The only thing that's strange about it is the puffs of air they shoot at you before taking a "picture."  I bet the number of people genuinely upset is exceeded by the number who get a cheap thrill from the idea of their body contours being seen by some hidden stranger. 

Keith Richards, Junkie-Genius  I'm most of the way through Keith Richards' hefty autobiography, and it's great.  Beatles or Stones?  Stones.  There is tons of "musicology" in the book--you come out understanding what made the Rolling Stones sound like the Rolling Stones.  Cool. The book is also a hugely detailed story of heroin addiction and recovery.  Yawn.  Why do I find that story line so uninteresting?  I'm pondering--more on the book in my next TPM column.

Philosophers Without Gods  So there I am at the Barnes and Noble in Union Square (NYC)...what a fantastic bookstore!  I decide to have a look at the atheism shelf, and there's Philosophers without Gods, now in paperback. I glance at the blurbs on the back, and what do you know--there's a paragraph of my own review in Free Inquiry
Taken as a group, these readable, personal, and provocative essays make it clear  that there are many kinds of non-believers, and even many different elements that make up a single skeptical outlook.  Contrary to the popular image, atheism isn’t all rebellious trumpets and defiant drums.  That part of the orchestra is essential, but here we have all the varieties of unreligious experience, a full symphony of unbelief.
I like (to be honest) rereading this review, because it reminds me of what I really think about "the new atheism."  The trumpets and drums are essential, but the full symphony of unbelief needs other sounds.  Oh right, now I remember...that's what I think!  The review also explains why I am more a violin than a drum--because I am both an outsider and an insider to religion.  As an insider, I see what's good about it (see below).

Not a new atheist, therefore an accommodationist?  (Rubbish!)  PWG is a great antidote to a very popular mistake--the mistake of thinking atheists who aren't new--who don't align with "the four horsemen"--must therefore be "accommodationists."  The whole universe of atheists is thus divided into two groups.   PWG makes it clear there are far more varieties of unbelief.

"Accommodationism" is a pejorative term for a pair of positions taken by Chris Mooney (and co-author Sheril Kirschenbaum) in the 2009 book Unscientific America.   Half of accommodationism is a "compatibilist" position in the philosophy of science that says there's no contradiction between science and at least some of religion.  Half of it is a "pragmatist" position that says if you want to promote science education, you should find allies where you can, ignoring disagreements about religion as much as possible.

Since the summer of 2009, new atheists in the blogosphere have increasingly lumped together all atheists who aren't "new" as accommodationists...as if Mooney's reasons were the only reasons a person could have for being not-new.  But that's not at all true.

Personally, I am agnostic about the compatibility issue--I await enlightenment.  As for strategy, yeah, I agree that that science education promoters should "lowlight" religious disagreements, but I don't stay up nights worrying about science education.  My attitude about new atheism isn't primarily colored by those kinds of issues.  The atheists in PWG are not all preoccupied with science vs. religion either. Those who are not-new are not necessarily adherents of Mooney-style accommodationism.

The good of religion    It goes back to Keith Richards's book. Over and over again, he talks about the "elevation" he feels from making one out of many--one sound in a band with many members.  This is a term also used by Jonathan Haidt, who references Barbara Ehrenreich's book about the lost art of dancing in the streets.   We can't all be Keith Richards, but anyone can become a member of a church--and then the "band" is huge, crossing boundaries of both space and time.

But wait--why do you need a church for that?  Why isn't there sufficient elevation in going to rock concerts or political rallies or baseball games?  It's different, because a church (but not a stadium) is a place in which people deal with the passage of time (marked by holidays) and the major events of life--birth, marriage, illness, death. Contingently, though not of necessity, churches are in the time/birth/death business because they are places run by priests who have contact with the powers that supposedly govern such things.

The new atheist attitude is that the whole edifice of religion should come falling down because there aren't any gods.  But then you'd lose all the good.  As I see it: better for religion to evolve in a rational direction, not vanish entirely.  That view is the main thing that makes me a not-new atheist, and it has nothing to do with "accommodationism" about science and religion.

Jingle Bells  The holiday season is upon us.


s. wallerstein said...

Spending the day in The Barnes and Noble Union Square bookstore is my idea of a vacation.

The Stones have passed the test of time better than the Beatles.

The Beatles believed in the 60's and represented them more innocently than the Stones did.
Sergeant Pepper is embarassing to listen to these days, while the
music of the Stones from the same period, say, Symphony for the Devil, still has its power.

After their initial self-image of four smiling nice boys, the Beatles drifted from one 60's identity crisis to another, prophets, gurus, poets, flower-children, none of which convinces most people these days, while the Stones patented a lasting and seductive brand image from day one.

The anti-accomodationism wars arose not because there are only two varities of atheism, accomodationism and new atheism, but because some people wanted a brawl.

Jean Kazez said...

That bookstore is heavenly!

I love the Beatles--actually, now even more than the Stones. But as a teenager, I would have said "Stones." More raw and rebellious, less processed. Hey, Sergeant Pepper's is brilliant (as is Beggar's Banquet).

I agree--the whole idea of "new atheism" and "accommodationism" has to do with a personal brawl, not with any coherent dividing up of the landscape. Having found myself briefly in the middle of the brawl, it's easy for me to get sucked into a false dichotomy...which I obviously hadn't fallen for when I wrote that review (in 2008). It should be resisted!

s. wallerstein said...

It's all music to dance to or to feel like dancing to.

The Stones make better dancing music or at least inspire pseudo-dancing behavior in me.

When the Beatles attempt to be profound or poetic in their lyrics, they are too 60's, in my opinion. Imagine, which I know is pure John Lennon, not the Beatles, makes me cringe when I recall that I once took it seriously.

Insofar as lyrics are concerned, Dylan can be (at times) taken seriously. He has a way with words. His persona is less pure 60's. Is there a better song about enjoying the misery of someone who once looked down on you, than Like a Rolling Stone?

Wayne said...

I object to the xray scans... I don't need more radiation. My dentist told me that he didn't like that for the same reason. He travels a quite a bit, and being a dentist is also exposed a lot to radiation. He's genuinely worried about the cumulative effects of radiation, since he has a family history of cancer. I don't, and I'm not a dentist, but I think if I can avoid exposing myself to radiation, I should.

I don't think I would mind being patted down, but I think that it speaks about the way american's think and view their own body and sexuality. Someone touching you around the genital areas is necessarily sexual assault? Really?

Jean Kazez said...

Listening to Sergeant Peppers as I write...I just don't hear it as 60s music. Rolling Stone magazine says: best album of all time. It just got released on Itunes and it's doing very well. I think lots of people hear the Beatles as timeless...my kids and their friends love the Beatles (along with Lady Gaga, Eminem, and whatever).

Wayne--I read somewhere that you get more radiation just going on a flight than from the scanner. Have you read that?

Anonymous said...

The Beach Boys are better than both The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.

s. wallerstein said...

Actually, our conversation yesterday led me to listen to a sample of 60's music last night, and with the exception of one or two songs by Bob Dylan (far fewer than I had expected), it all seemed very dated.

Because of my age at the time, I bought into and believed in the mass culture of the 60's much more seriously than I have ever believed in mass culture since. In fact, I no longer pay much attention to mass culture at all.

So when I say that the Beatles, the Stones and most of Bob Dylan seem dated to me, I'm basically saying that I've changed, that the way I see the world has changed, and except in rare moments of nostalgia, I don't contact much with the self who bought those albums 45 years ago.

s. wallerstein said...

So that I don't appear as the insufferable elitist which I am and since you've been generous enough to share your tastes in popular music, here my list of pop songs that I can listen to again and again.

In no special order of preference:

Edith Piaf: Je ne regrette rien.

Frank Sinatra: My Way (every similar to Je ne regrette rien in its theme).

Sinatra: Let Me Try Again.

Dylan: Chimes of Freedom.

Dylan: Like a Rolling Stone.

Willie Nelson: You were always on my mind. (similar to Let Me Try Again as to the theme).

Bruce Springsteen: Human Touch.

Arethra Franklin: Respect.

Otis Redding: Dock of the Bay.

B.B. King: The Thrill is Gone.

J. J. Ramsey said...

"Wayne--I read somewhere that you get more radiation just going on a flight than from the scanner. Have you read that?"

I have, but I've also read that the radiation on a flight tends to go through the whole volume of the body, whereas the X-rays in the body scanners are concentrated at the skin. It doesn't look like anyone--including those in the government--has actually done the testing to see whether that makes the radiation dose to the skin unhealthily high.

Aeolus said...

Amos, are you accusing people like Jean and me of being accommodationists on the issue of Stones vis-a-vis Beatles? Them's street-fighting words, man! I prefer to think of myself as a compatibilist on the issue.

By the way, here's an excellent program on John Lennon's music, featuring many rare recordings and demos that you won't have heard before:
Scroll down to the October 9, 2010 show and listen to both parts. Vinyl Tap is presented by Randy Bachman, formerly of The Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive; he knows and has played with just about everyone in rock 'n' roll and is an encyclopedia of information and stories.

Jean Kazez said...

JJ--Thanks...must read this stuff. If I flew constantly I would think about it more.

Aeolus, Yeah, I'm a Beatles-Stones compatibilist too. Thanks for the Lennon link. Sunday morning is a good time to worship John Lennon.

One reason I don't really feel taken back to the 60s by listening to music from the 60s is that I never stopped listening to it. Actually-- I like having revivals. At the moment it's the Stones (we watched a Stones movie last night)...often it's the Beatles, but also Bob Dylan and many other "greats." But we also listen to lots of new music, aided and abetted by the local teenagers.

Wayne said...

Yeah, I have... But still, radiation is radiation. If I've decided to take a flight, that's a dose I have to deal with. I don't have to deal with the backscatter.... Especially considering there is a body scanner that doesn't use x-rays. I think its called the millimeter wave scan.

So yeah... Less radiation the better, even if it is small doses.